Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How we got to His and Hers (breasts, not towels)

Since I was on the subject of breastfeeding, I thought some might be interested in the whole topic of tandem nursing. If you are really interested, check out Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower and www.kellymom.com. Here is how it happened for us:

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I didn't expect to breastfeed Ariana past a year, maybe not even that long. Like a lot of other moms, I started getting the comments about "still" breastfeeding by the time she was 6 months. Once I realized that every medical organization out there encouraged moms to breastfeed for as long as they and the child wished, and that many set an absolute minimum of two years, I had the "official" backing to choose child-led weaning. By that point, though, our breastfeeding relationship was so special I didn't want to cut it short. It made my life so easy--perfect nutrition and comfort rolled into one. Tired? Cranky? Hungry? Hurt? Leche would make everything OK for her.

One quick digression. My husband deserves a huge amount of credit for our successful breastfeeding experiences. He has supported us fully and never pushed weaning. Even more remarkably, he has gone out of his way to do things like bringing the babies to me at work so that I could nurse between classes, etc, without a single complaint. If more guys were like him, breastfeeding rates would skyrocket.

Ariana was about 15 months old when I got pregnant with Joel, and still nursing about 8 times in 24 hours. I read everything I could find on nursing through pregnancy and found that unless it is already a high-risk pregnancy, it is perfectly safe. I was also very encouraged by all the moms on my message boards who had a lot of experience with this. My OB was pleased to find out the Ariana was still nursing, too, which was really nice. I had learned enough since Ariana was born to stop seeing medical professionals as minor deities, but it was nice to have to support. It was going great.

Then, around the end of my first trimester, we went to Europe. Odd hours and vacation time, plus wearing a slightly small bra from laundry issues resulted in our first issue since Ariana was born: mastitis. NOT FUN, especially on vacation. If you've ever had mastitis, you understand the misery, so I won't dwell on the details. I went to the hospital in Rome. I spoke Spanish and they answered in Italian, which was complicated. I kept explaining that I was pregnant, because I was concerned about any medical treatment that might affect the baby. I think they thought it was a weird communication issue or something, at first. They injected me with something without telling me what it was, and I freaked out, and finally got them to understand. They had stunned looks when they finally repeated it back to me. Frankly, I think they thought I was a whacko. Then they told me to wean cold-turkey because I needed medicine that would hurt Ariana, although it was safe for pregnncy. Ack.

Take a pregnant, still nauseated, exhausted, hormonal mom with mastitis, tell her to cold-turkey wean her daughter who is still very, very attached to nursing after scaring her by injecting her with an unknown substance because you didn't believe any mom would be breastfeeding while pregnant...yeah. I was a hysterical mess for a couple of hours. Fortunately, I had been able to follow the comments by the nurse, who had told them that I should keep nursing as much as possible. I was also able to get to a computer and do a little research on my own. The unknown injection turned out to be a muscle relaxer, which I didn't need at all, at least not before being treated. They prescription turned out to be antibiotics, which actually are safe while breastfeeding, but by the time I found out I was feeling better and didn't need them. Aside from temporary emotional turmoil, everything was fine.

My milk dried up by about 16 weeks along, but Ariana was undeterred and continued to nurse about six times a day. She did nightwean, apparently deciding that it wasn't worth getting up for. During the last trimester, my colostrum came in, which helped a lot. I hate dry nursing. It made my skin crawl. I preferred that to weaning, though, and kept telling myself it was temporary.

The first time Ariana nursed in the hospital after Joel was born was priceless. She was so happy. After we got home, she was so delighted with the baby brother who brought back an abundance of milk. And "abundance" is a feeble, even paltry description of the mighty fire-hose streams that poured forth. Ariana thought it was hilarious to aim them and squirt across the room--they had a better range than a water gun. I was switching sides each time they nursed, and pretty soon by body was convinced it needed to feed twin pre-schoolers, or something. Poor Joel--it took courage to latch on, and he was gulping for dear life in an attempt not to drown. Finally, we designated "his and hers" sides, and the flow gradually became manageable.

Ariana was so overjoyed that she stopped eating solids and for the next four months was almost exclusively breastfed. She gained four pounds. When Joel was about a month old, we went dairy-free because even trace amounts would have him screaming for hours. If they both really wanted it, I would nurse them simultaneously, but it was more uncomfortable, so I usually had them take turns.

Joel was over a year and a half, and Ariana was over three and a half when I became pregnant with Elena. I expected it to be much easier this time. In most ways, it was. Ariana was still nursing about four times a day and Joel was nursing around seven or eight times a day. We were eliminating wheat, eggs, etc. at that point. The morning/noon/night-sickness was worse this time around, though. I wound up losing about 14 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. My OB was still delighted that the kidlets were still breastfeeding (a couple of nurses were shocked, though) and never suggested weaning. Ariana slowed down after turning four, and once the colostrum came in, she decided it was very yucky and only good for babies. She weaned in the last trimester. Joel dropped to about 4-5 times a day.

The only medical drama this time around was when everyone in the family got flu, pneumonia and ear infections all at once. The docs confirmed it on everyone else, and didn't do the same tests for me, but since I had all the same symptoms it was pretty obvious. It just lasted a few days, thank God.

Elena's birth story and subsequent updates are in previous posts, so I'll wrap up by saying that it helped a lot to tame my over-supply this time by assigning Joel and Elena each a breast. At times, they have been slightly lop-sided, to my amusement, but things seem to have evened out now. Joel usually nurses a few times a day, unless he is sick, when he nurses as much as Elena. She normally breastfeeds about every 2-3 hours during the day, with one four hour stretch at night, followed by another 3-4 hour stretch.

I still have mixed feelings about Ariana weaning. I fully expected to triandem nurse. It is a relief to not have to worry about her allergens. I feel a little sad that she has repeatedly indicated that she misses nursing and wants to breastfeed again. Logically, I know that she had more than four years of it, and that even though she might not have weaned without pregnancy, it wasn't a case of me refusing to nurse her. And most days, nursing two is plenty. It helps both of us a lot that I can pump for her--I did while she was sick with the puking plague, and it seemed to comfort her greatly.

I feel like overall, my breastfeeding experience has been extremely easy. I am very, very grateful to all the other moms who shared their experiences with me and to Carlos. Without them, I wouldn't have made it this far. Thanks, too, to my sweet kidlets, who have good nursing manners and have made it fun to breastfeed them, their toys, Carlos' chess pieces and an assortment of other objects. I love their closeness and the incredible sweetness of their relationship. I think this has taught them more about the joys of sharing than anything else we've done.


Blessed Mama said...

That's amazing. I've never talked to anyone who has tandem nursed, so it's interesting to hear how it works. I did continue to breastfeed through pregnancy, which most people were amazed at. Judging from the size of my babies, I don't think it ever dried up. :)

Ms. Burrows said...

I've given you and award.